Cheyenne, Wyoming — There was nothing but sunny skies on Sunday in Cheyenne but that didn’t make the finish of the 2019 Cheyenne Frontier Days any less dramatic for the reigning champion Nellie Miller.
Exactly one year ago, Miller raced her roan phenom Sister around Frontier Park’s huge arena with hail pelting them, after waiting out a delay due to tornado warnings. The Cottonwood, California cowgirl earned her first win at the rodeo known worldwide as the Daddy of ‘Em All.
Miller and Sister were back to try for the repeat and had followed a similar track to the final go round. They won the opening go during the slack, just as they did a year ago, but this time the path was longer thanks to Cheyenne’s change to a tournament style format with one extra sudden death round from previous seasons. No averages in 2019 meant that only the fastest each day during Frontier Days survived to compete again.
After a progressive round held in slack and a quarter finals through six performances, 24 of more than 180 cowgirls were left standing—or running as it were—for the title of Cheyenne Champion, including Miller.
The Daddy wrapped up over the weekend with two performances of semi-finals action and the culmination of it all on Sunday for the Championship Round.
Cheyenne Wimberley needed to do well in the town that bears the same name. She came to town with good momentum after a solid finish in Salinas last week but ranked just outside the top fifteen as the Texas cowgirl seeks to return to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) after nearly two decades. Though currently nineteenth, she trails the 15th position in the WPRA World standings by about $12,000.
She got a great boost in the semi-finals on Friday, July 26 when she won her group. Wimberley posted the fastest run of the entire rodeo at 17.21 seconds en route to picking up another $3,786 in earnings. More importantly, she clinched her spot into the Finals on Sunday.
After winning her first two rounds here, Miller was second at 17.43 seconds while Lisa Lockhart was third at 17.46. Rookie Megan Champion, Dena Milner and Karson Bradley all moved on from the Friday group.
Like Wimberley, Shali Lord is looking to get back to Las Vegas after a long absence. Lord has had a solid season and looks secure to make her second Wrangler NFR as she is ranked fourth in the WPRA World standings.
On Saturday, she added a little more assurance to that fact with a win during the second set of semi-finals. Riding the tough stallion Can Man, Lord was the first to compete, stopping the clock at 17.56 seconds. The mark would not be beat with Michelle Darling coming closest at 17.69 seconds.
Lacinda Rose also helped keep her Wrangler NFR dreams afloat; the two-time and reigning Great Lakes Circuit champ is ranked 13th in the current standings and is headed to the Cheyenne Finals after finishing third on Saturday.
Kellie Collier and a pair of former Cheyenne champions, Stevi Hillman and Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, rounded out the field for the final round of the Daddy.
It was a beautiful day in Cheyenne with plenty of hopes and dreams as bright as the Wyoming sky amongst the field of contenders for the championship. Unlike previous years, nothing done prior to Sunday figured into who would walk away with the title, only who could get around three cans and home the fastest that day.
The 12-cowgirl Finals featured four ladies who had already walked the Cheyenne stage as champion in their careers: Miller, Lockhart, Hillman and Pozzi Tonozzi. For Miller, she is seeking a bit of history, trying to be the first repeat winner since Kristie Peterson won her third consecutive title here in 1998.
With its position towards the end of the big July run of rodeos, Cheyenne is often a turning point for cowboys and cowgirls going down the road with a goal to end the season in Las Vegas at the Wrangler NFR so Sunday meant big pressure for ladies like Wimberley and Rose, clinging to top 20 positions inside the WPRA World standings. For Champion, Sunday brought a chance to close the gap on leading Rookie Carly Taylor, who was not competing. Champion had a shot at history with a win as well: no rookie has won Frontier Days since Carol Goostree in 1978.
Competing in her fourth consecutive Cheyenne finals and aboard her third different horse, Hillman kicked off the final round, hoping for a repeat of 2018 when she won the short go round. A respectable 17.61 gave the remaining 11 something at which to shoot.
Hillman’s hauling partner Kellie Collier ran next but a tipped barrel ended her championship hopes. Wimberley ran third on the ground, finishing up in 17.98 seconds to sit second in the early going.
Lord came next in the draw. With Can Man walking calming down the big arena, Lord jockeyed closer to the start line before asking the big stallion to ignite. He bolted through the pattern, stopping the clock in 17.22 seconds, the second best time of the rodeo.
Champion rode in next, riding the little red mare Katy who nearly carried her owner Rachel Dice to the Wrangler NFR several years ago. Proving Champion’s motto that dynamite comes in small packages, Katy gave the big stallion a run for his money, finishing just behind Lord at 17.24 seconds.
College National Finals cowgirl Karson Bradley had the next shot at the title. The only home state lady in the field, Bradley scrapped her way around the pattern, putting 17.74 seconds on the board, good enough for fourth at the time.
Texas cowgirl Dena Milner rode next aboard her grey horse Gary Owen Sir. The pair had a solid trip at 17.94 seconds.
Rose helped her Wrangler NFR cause—she was just over $2,000 ahead of the 15th ranked cowgirl entering the week—with a big run on Sunday. Riding Real Deal, who was raised by her husband Adam’s family and is just as good as a heading horse as he is at barrel racing, Rose flew around the course. Her time of 17.53 put her third behind Lord and Champion.
It’s been twelve years since Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi last laid claim to a Cheyenne championship. She came gunning for a second one aboard her mare Mona. Running to the left barrel first, the duo wrapped up the first and sprinted the rest of the way in 17.56 seconds to slot in just behind Rose.
Oklahoma’s Michelle Darling brought her wicked fast mare Martini down the long alley next. She made it three straight times in the 17.5’s with her 17.59 second run.
That left two cowgirls to run and both had won here before . . . Miller would go 11th in the draw, seeking her piece of history while Lockhart would finish the day.
Taking her usual big, long run to the first turn, Sister and Miller swallowed it up before continuing their streak through the cloverleaf. The crowd waited to see what time would flash up on the scoreboard. Miller had already run at 17.28 during the quarter finals, could she get even faster and take the repeat win?
When the clock showed a tie at 17.22 with Miller and Lord, the fans erupted. The biggest rodeos of the summer have been decided by mere fractions on the clock this season but none had finished in a tie.
Could Lockhart break the stalemate and win Cheyenne on the heels of Calgary just as she did in 2015?
Though her superstar Louie made a great trip around the pattern, his 17.66 left the tie unbroken at the top resulting in co-champions per WPRA rules with Miller and Lord sharing first and second place money.
“Thank you so much. She just loves this place,” Miller said about her horse Sister after the big win. She noted the role her family plays in her success as well. “I have my daughter and my husband here, I wouldn’t be able to do it without them.”
The 2017 WPRA World Champ was typically humble when asked about becoming just the fifth cowgirl in history to win back-to-back titles in Cheyenne following Gail Petska (1972-73), Goostree (1978-79), Lynn McKenzie (1980-81) and of course Peterson (1996-98).
“I never thought I would be here, honestly, so this is amazing and I’m so thankful.”
Miller pocketed more than $20,000 for her four runs at Frontier Days, which could be enough to slide her back to number one in the WPRA World standings, a position she held from her repeat victory at RodeoHouston in March until the conclusion of the Calgary Stampede just two weeks ago. Lord will stay solidly in the top half of the world standings as well as she vies for another Wrangler NFR berth.
The last two WPRA World Champions, Miller and Hailey Kinsel, are locked in a tight battle as the season enters its final two months. Lockhart will stay third after picking up nearly $5,000 in Cheyenne while Lord’s $12,663 won here puts her close to $100,000 in season earnings.
Pozzi Tonozzi was the third high money winner here with more than $10,000 won. The two-time WPRA World Champion should move up a couple spots from seventh.
Champion and Rose scored big in Cheyenne, each winning more than $9,000 for the rodeo. The win moves Rose further off the Wrangler NFR bubble, creating more distance between her and the pack of wolves on her tail.
For Champion, the earnings put her in a virtual tie with Carly Taylor for the Rookie title as the season enters the final home stretch.
1. Cheyenne Wimberley, KN Fabs Mist of Fame, 17.21
2. Nellie Miller, Rafter W Minnie Reba, 17.43
3. Lisa Lockhart, An Okie with Cash, 17.46
4. Megan Champion, Tivitosatthegogobar, 17.53
5. Dena Milner, Gary Owen Sir, 17.71
6. Karson Bradley, Sunfrost Cat, 17.76
1. Shali Lord, Freckles ta Fame, 17.56
2. Michelle Darling, Morning Traffic, 17.69
3. Lacinda Rose, RR Meradas Real Deal, 17.73
4. Kellie Collier, Koolspeed ta Fame, 17.74
5. Stevi Hillman, Guys R A Mystery, 17.77
6. Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, 17.77
1. Lord, 17.22
2. Miller, 17.22
3. Champion, 17.24
4. Rose, 17.53
5. Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, 17.56
6. Michelle Darling, 17.59
7. Stevi Hillman, 17.61
8. Lisa Lockhart, 17.66
9. Karson Bradley, 17.74
10. Dena Milner, 17.94
11. Cheyenne Wimberley, 17.98
12. Kellie Collier, 22.69
Courtesy of WPRA